Two leading, influential figures in the UK newspaper industry – Tim Robinson and John Holliday – share a very interesting view that the COVID-19 pandemic may ultimately benefit the industry, pinpointing 'renewed interest' in local news.
On the media industry website, HoldTheFrontPage
, David Sharman has drawn together their views – from an article by Robinson, JPIMedia's managing editor, in InPublishing
magazine, in which he claims, most encouragingly, that the move to increased remote working could provide a print boost for local publishers.
And Holliday, managing director at Cumbrian publisher, Barrnon Media, in the company's annual statement to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), declares that the pandemic has 'weirdly helped small publishers by bringing communities closer together'. I am devoting a fair amount of space to these views this week as it is very uplifting to bring you good news from the newspaper industry for a change.
'The truth is, newsprint will not be returning to a glorious Golden Age: no surprises there,' emphasises Robinson, before pointing out: 'However, in a world turned upside-down by global lockdowns, there are significant opportunities and reasons for (justifiable) optimism. For local media, the battle for breaking news was won by the internet long ago. Increasingly, print has a different job to do as our online content competes for mobile eyeballs. And where local newspapers are making a post-pandemic comeback (and yes, many of JPI's are) it's because they are thinking about these things:
: People's habits are constantly changing and their reading habits change with them. Monday to Friday, they are no longer opening a newspaper at breakfast time… weekends, however, are a different story. Readers want distraction, ideas for things to do, read or watch, and places to go. Getting the right package of curated leisure, news, opinion, background, nostalgia and sport will make weekend (and pre-weekend papers) an habitual purchase.
: In a world of infinite choice, our print brands need to give readers something they can't get anywhere else. And in local media, that Unique Selling Point (USP), to state the obvious, is local content. But not just the same old local content – we're having to re-evaluate everything. Just because we've covered a subject, a sport or an activity since time began, it doesn't mean people are still interested. As an example: thousands of people take part in park runs, something we never really covered, whereas a lower-league football touchline increasingly empty of spectators was seen as an essential part of our sports mix. This – and much else – is changing and the huge amount of data about online readership is helping to inform these print choices.
: Our authority, with local editors accountable to their communities, is very different to the social media free-for-all. We need to cherish and develop our influence to improve our communities. This is valued by readers, who find it habit-forming.
'Working from home
: The boundaries of our physical world have shrunk and Working From Home (WFH) means the end of commuting for many. This will undoubtedly mean a renewed interest in local place, property, leisure, food and drink, health and content relevant to their changing lives. Printed local newspapers are still selling across the UK and the ones which find new ways to reach out and stay relevant to readers are the ones which will survive.'
He concludes incisively: 'In a world of infinite choice, our print brands need to give readers something they can't get anywhere else'.
Holliday reports that the 161-year-old Cumberland & Westmorland Herald
weekly, has just completed its first full year as part of Barrnon Media. It went into administration in early 2020 and is now part of a small but growing media business that includes The Keswick Reminder
newspaper and Cumbria Crack
– the county's biggest news website. The Herald
is printed in Glasgow by Newsquest, and has a circulation of around 9,200 copies, including 500 copies mailed out to subscribers each week.
Holliday tells us: 'Despite being plagued with declining sales, declining advertising revenue and increased costs, the Herald
is now blooming, recording a healthy profit in year one. 2020 was a landmark year. Administration. New owners. Growth… It also led to many achievements'.
, he relates:
* Underwent major paper and website re-designs.
* Produced the best Christmas supplement in its history.
* Continued to find news, when not much was around in a COVID-19 year.
* Launched a campaign to save from closure one of Britain's oldest agricultural colleges (Newton Rigg).
Holliday explains: 'Our mission is to create a sense of connection and belonging in the North Lake District community that is hard to come by in some other way. As local news publishers shrink – or go away all together – here we are trying to find a sustainable model for local news, which we think has tremendous value for local democracy. Weirdly, I believe that COVID-19 has helped. Helped bring communities closer together. Helped focus on families and the important things in life'.
He adds: 'The financial year proved successful. 84% of total revenue comes from the Herald
. By increasing the price of the paper on day one by 50%, the business reduced its reliance on advertising revenue and the majority of revenue now comes from readers. A number of long-standing advertising clients have also returned.
'Newspaper sales continue to decline overall on the Herald
. The goal for 2021 is to grow audiences on all platforms with a content first strategy (as opposed to a platform first strategy). We remain confident our local names, local places and local faces
tagline will resonate with local readers – and we envisage huge growth online.'
I do have serious reservations about Ofcom's decision to clear ITV's Good Morning Britain
(GMB) show on 57,000 complaints about breaching broadcasting rules after presenter Piers Morgan questioned Meghan Markle's claims about her mental health and racism in her Oprah Winfrey interview – and accused her of being an inveterate liar.
However my reservations may be influenced by my vehement distaste for Morgan's hectoring, abrasive interviewing technique and many of his personal opinions, and I find GMB a much more palatable programme since he departed. Thus I was much pleased with the Daily Star of Scotland's
front page in which 'gobby' (its word) Morgan's victory for free speech was greeted with a huge heading: 'Now he'll be even more insufferable'. Quite!
However, I do feel there was much common sense in the Daily Mail's
editorial on the same day, which, in all fairness, I feel obliged to reprint here in full. Under the heading Waking up the woke
, it read: 'Free speech is the bedrock of a civilised society. Yet it is under attack as never before in the modern age. We face an insidious tendency by the self-serving rich, powerful and influential to shackle debate and scrutiny. So Ofcom's landmark ruling that clears Good Morning Britain
over Piers Morgan's acerbic criticism of Meghan Markle is tremendously important.
'Ms Markle represents the archetypal celebrity aristocracy who bleats about privacy while flaunting themselves before a global TV audience. Yet however much they desire, they should not be immune from criticism. This is a vital fight-back against the cancel culture mob. For the good of society, it is important that all opinions are heard – however uncomfortable they might be.'
Retired Western Isles-based freelance journalist, Bill Lucas, has donated more than half a century's worth of news and photographic archives to Stornoway Historical Society.
Bill, now aged 87, for whom I had much admiration and affection from my newsdesk days dealing with him when he regularly supplied copy to The Press and Journal
(P&J), began his newspaper career at his hometown newspaper, the Hamilton Advertiser
, before joining the Stornoway Gazette
five years later in 1956. After three years there, he moved to The Scotsman
but returned in 1961 and successfully ran the Hebridean Press Service agency until his retirement in 2010. In 2007, he featured in the Highlands and Islands Media Awards roll of honour with a lifetime achievement award.
Bill told HoldTheFrontPage
: 'My entire archive represents 50 years of news stories, photographs, negatives, transparencies, plus recordings when I was the BBC's voice of the Hebrides for a wee while before it moved to Stornoway'.
Just published is the National Council for the Training of Journalists' (NCTJ) latest careers guide – aimed at getting more people from a 'range of backgrounds' to enter journalism. The booklet, sponsored by the Financial Times
, is being sent to all secondary schools, colleges and job centres across the UK. It features first steps to get started in journalism, insights from alumni working in a range of roles, and advice on how to choose the right training route – including listing of all NCTJ-accredited courses.
Somewhat bizarre news reaches me from China: effeminate men have been banned from its TV channels. Broadcasters must 'resolutely put to an end to sissy men and other abnormal aesthetics', the TV regulator has firmly decreed, using an insulting slang term for effeminate men – 'niang pao' or literally 'girlie guns'. Instead, the broadcasters are told, they should 'vigorously promote excellent Chinese traditional culture, revolutionary culture and advanced socialist culture'.